A nervous Melissa Kelly, owner of Primo in Rockland, has been practicing the past couple of days for a big event: She’s testifying at 1 p.m. Wednesday at a virtual congressional hearing on the Paycheck Protection Program.

The U.S. House Committee on Small Business was “looking for a small business owner,” Kelly said, “and I think Maine was one of the states they were hoping to find someone” because of the seasonal nature of the restaurant industry here.

She had a 45-minute pre-interview last Wednesday, then received an email the next morning requesting that she testify. Kelly will speak about her own experience with the program; she has also been gathering the experiences of others in the industry in Maine and has submitted their stories as exhibits in her written testimony.

Kelly said at the time she applied for the PPP program in April she was doing only 30 percent of her normal business. She said she asked for a “modest” loan “because I was very worried about what was going to happen.” The initial structure of the loan program stipulated that the loan would be forgiven only if the employer spent much of the money on payroll within a set time frame, though it was unclear then when restaurants would be able to re-open.

“When I went back to see if I could take the remainder of the loan that was offered to me, the (Small Business Administration) had changed the rules, and it was no longer available,” Kelly said. “So I’m just requesting that they adjust the rules – not just for me, for anyone who has dealt with this situation. They’ve moved the field goal many times during this situation, and everything’s been very unclear.”

Kelly took out another, private loan to help cover expenses for outdoor dining, which she is setting up now. (Through the pandemic, she has been relying on takeout and delivery.) Her restaurant normally seats 165 diners. For now, she has no plans to open up inside. With outdoor dining only, she can only seat 50. To beef up her bottom line, Kelly also turned her barn into a market. Primo Provisions in the Barn will be open from 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Thursday through Sunday.

Bob’s Clam Hut to change hands

Bob’s Clam Hut in Kittery is being sold. Maine Today photo

After 34 years, proprietor Michael Landgarten is selling his iconic Bob’s Clam Hut in Kittery to First Serve Hospitality Group. The final sale is still a couple of weeks away, but he doesn’t expect any hitches.

First Serve also owns Robert’s Maine Grill in Kittery (which the group bought from Landgarten in 2016) and Mabel’s Lobster Claw in Kennebunkport, Landgarten said.

“I’m getting close to 62 and have been doing it a long time,” said Landgarten, who also owns Lil’s Café in Kittery’s Wallingford Square, and is part owner of the new Corner Pub, which is expected to open in the square by early July. “I just can’t keep up the pace that I used to.”

Landgarten said it’s been “very hard” to let go of Bob’s. “It’s special to me,” he said.

Landgarten closed the Bob’s Clam Hut location in Portland on March 1. He originally planned to sell the Kittery restaurant to another buyer who did not want to take on Portland. As it turned out, the pandemic put an end to the original offer.

Return of Silly’s?

Silly’s fans are going nuts over a mysterious Facebook post implying that some version of the popular Portland restaurant will be returning soon.

On Monday someone posted some photos of a chocolate cake in progress along with the note “Coming soon!” Then a commenter posted an undated screen shot of a Facebook post hinting that a place called “Vintage Silly’s” might re-open at 68 Washington Ave., the former home of “Simply Vegan by Silly’s, with counter service, a cash-only policy, and limited hours.

Is any of this true? I tried contacting Colleen Kelley, the owner of Silly’s and got this text back: “I don’t have any details yet but a new incarnation is on the horizon.”

Go ahead, Silly’s fans. Go nuts. 

Black Dinah changing name

Kate Shaffer, the owner of Westbrook-based Black Dinah Chocolatiers, announced on Facebook last week that she will be changing the name of the company, which she called “the elephant in the room” after several days of Black Lives Matter protests in communities around Maine.

Shaffer founded the company on Isle au Haut in 2007, out of her home, which was located at the base of Black Dinah mountain. She also ran a small café, where locals and visitors would eat breakfast before hitting the Black Dinah Trail, which began at the edge of the café’s deck, Shaffer has previously explained.

“Several years after we moved our company to the mainland and south to the Greater Portland area, we noticed, to our dismay, that not everyone had the same good associations with our company name,” she wrote in her Facebook post. “And as our customer base grew, so did our perspective. Last fall, we began, as a team, to make a plan to transition to a new name.”

Shaffer has now moved up the timeline, and the company will announce its new name by mid-July.

“We look forward to sharing that name with you and stepping into our new shoes. And stepping off the sidelines. Black lives matter. To me, to the team here in Westbrook, and to our customers.”

More coffee for Portland

Jocelyne Kamikaze and her husband, Andre Nzeyimana, have opened Burundi Star, a coffee shop, on St. John Street in Portland. Photo courtesy of Jocelyne Kamikaze

So many small restaurants and food businesses are worried they could be forced to close for good because of the pandemic. So it’s extra-nice to hear of the occasional opening.

Jocelyne Kamikazi and her husband, Andre Nzeyimana, have opened a coffee shop at 261 St. John St. in Portland, where they’re selling coffee sourced from her home country of Burundi. The shop, called Burundi Star, is open from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday.

The shop is also selling meat or potato sambousas, avocado toast on Standard Baking Co. bread, banana soup, and treats from Norimoto Bakery.

New fish food truck drives into town

Evo X, the new food truck from Evo Kitchen + Bar serving seafood shack-style food, opened Friday at Four Points Marina, 58 Fore St. According to the Evo website, the hours will be 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

The menu, developed by chef Matt Ginn and sous chef John Glover, includes fish and clam chowder, lobster rolls, cheeseburgers, chickpea fries, red snappers, a blackened fish sandwich, and fried local fish such as beer-battered hake with furkikake and tartar sauce.

Bakers against the machine

A group of Portland pastry chefs joined 2,400 bakers from 42 states and 15 countries to hold a global bake sale known as Bakers Against Racism. The bake sale is to raise money for organizations that support the causes of racial equality and justice. Locally, the boxes will be filled with cookies from Chaval, Gross Confection Bar, Hugos, Parlor Ice Cream, Primo, Scales and Tandem Bakery. Unfortunately for you, this is just a tease, as the cookie boxes have already sold out, according to the Chaval website.


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